Ministry & Service


“Jesus Calling”

A sermon by

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel

Sunday, June 4, 2017


TEXT: Matthew 4:17-20 and Romans 8:28-30


Matthew 4:17-20

 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Romans 8:28-30

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

            Dave Dravecky became an author and inspirational speaker after a desmoid tumor in his pitching arm forced an amputation that ended his professional baseball career.  One of the stories he tells is of shopping at Sears with his wife post-surgery.  She was looking for a new washer-dryer.  He headed for the sporting goods department to check out the fishing rods.


            A clerk watched in curiosity as Dravecky would look at a rod and practice casting.  Finally, he could contain himself no longer.


            “May I help you, sir?”


            “No, just browsing.”


            “Do you fish?”


            “Yes.  I love to fish.”


            “If you don’t mind my asking, how can you do that?”


            Dravecky then showed the clerk how he cast, tucked the rod under his arm, and then slowly reeled in the line.


            The clerk then asked, “Have you ever caught anything?”


            Dravecky smiled and said, “Yeah, once I caught one this long!” (holding out one hand)


            I am not a fisherman.  I admire people who fish and who can catch fish.  I am just not one of those.  I am a bait drowner.


            Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen.  In 1986 the remains of a 2,000-year-old fisherman’s boat were found off the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Its discoverers named it the “Jesus Boat,” and it is now on display in a museum near Magdala in Israel.  The boat is about 27 feet long, 7 ½ feet wide, and a little over 4 feet high.  It is almost identical to the fishing boats used by Peter, Andrew, James, and John.


In Jesus’ day, being a fisherman earned you a good living. It was hard work.  You would either use a drag net behind the boat as fishermen still do today, or else you would cast weighted nets over your shoulder.  The nets would settle to the bottom, trapping the fish below the net.  Then you would be forced to dive and collect the fish in a satchel or carefully encircle your catch with the net and pull it to the surface.  You had to be strong.  You had to have good lungs.


When you weren’t fishing, you were mending the nets. The nets became dirty and torn with use.  Each day, they had to be mended, washed, and dried for the next day’s fishing.


            This was the life of Jesus’ first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  They were robust, hard-working men.  They were not well-educated scholars.  They had callouses on their hands, strained muscles in their backs, hardly any body fat, and skin weathered and burnished by the sun.


            Jesus calls these men to be his disciples.  Read Matthew’s Gospel and you get the idea that dropping their nets and following Jesus was a sudden, abrupt response.  We would be wrong in that assumption.  We need context.  We get it from the Gospel-writer John. 


The scene is Bethany beyond the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. It is perhaps several months earlier than today’s passage.  Bethany beyond the Jordan is where John baptizes.  It is where John baptized Jesus.


There are two disciples of John the Baptist with him. One is Andrew.  John the Baptist has been calling people to repentance and baptizing them, pointing to One who will come after him. 


We are in John chapter one, beginning with verse 35. Jesus has just spent forty days in the wilderness.  Now he returns.  John sees Jesus pass by.  John points out Jesus to these two disciples as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The two disciples leave John to follow Jesus.  They spend the day with Jesus.  Andrew, one of these two men, runs to find his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.”  Andrew brings Simon to Jesus.  The next day (43) Jesus heads back to Galilee.  Andrew and Simon Peter head home to Capernaum.


Jesus preached near the Sea of Galilee. Simon, Andrew, James, and John had likely heard his teaching.  Perhaps they had even seen some of his miracles in and around Capernaum in Galilee.  Perhaps they, too, had been at the wedding feast in Cana.  They had heard his message.  It was the same message as that of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”


“Turn around! You’re going the wrong way!  Have a change of heart!  Have a change of mind!”  However, the message has this difference.  John pointed to One who was to come.  Jesus was the One.


So, as Jesus walks along the seashore in Galilee, he does not see strangers. Andrew and Peter are known to him.  James and John are his first cousins, the sons of Salome, the sister of his mother, Mary.  They are family.


Last week I preached about REBIRTH, focusing on Nicodemus. Today, I want to speak about RELATIONSHIP, focusing on the call of the first four disciples.  Today’s sermon is about our relationship with Jesus.


In Jesus’ day, if a person wanted to become a disciple, he would approach a rabbi or teacher and ask if he could become the rabbi’s student. It would be like approaching a master craftsman and asking to be an apprentice so that you might learn the trade.  You would watch what he did, listen to what he said, and then do what he showed you or taught you to do.


Jesus reverses the normal order of things. He calls his disciples.  He doesn’t wait for disciples to come to him.  He calls them to Himself.  Likely, he called them by name.  “Andrew, Peter, James, and John!  Come!  Follow me!” 


Why these four? We find Peter to be impulsive, often acting and speaking without thinking.  James and John are hotheads!  Why did Jesus call them for this mission?  And what of the other disciples?  One was a tax-collector, one a political revolutionary, another had a reputation for doubting, and another would go down in history as a traitor.


Why did Jesus call these men? Perhaps for the same reason Jesus called me.  Perhaps for the same reason Jesus has called you.  It is not our skills and abilities that recommend us.  It is not our idiosyncrasies, bad habits, or rough edges that disqualify us. 


Jesus wants us to follow him.


Jesus wants us. Jesus is looking for followers.  Jesus is calling disciples.  Jesus is not calling fully formed saints, but ordinary people who are willing to be in relationship with him and learn from him.  He is not simply giving a set of rules, a body of teaching, a moral ethic, or a religious ritual.  Jesus is looking for followers.  Jesus is willing to lay down his life for people who are willing to lay down theirs for Him and for other people.


None of the disciples was qualified to be the person each one became. Not one started out as a saint. 


The most amazing thing is that when people spend a huge chunk of intentional time with Jesus, they become saints. The rough edges get knocked off.  Habits change.  Skills develop.  Suddenly, there is the discovery that the person who began the journey with Jesus is no longer the same person they were at the start.


“Come, follow me.”


“Come, follow me” in the Greek literally means, “Come after me” or “Come behind me.” Jesus is not calling people to be unengaged believers in his existence.  Jesus doesn’t call people to church membership.  Jesus is not imploring us follow a set of rules and regulations.  Jesus is calling us to follow him.  Jesus is calling us to be in relationship with him.  Jesus is inviting us to allow him to mentor us.  Jesus offers Himself.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and human in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)


Just as marriage is what happens after you say, “I do,” discipleship is what happens after you say, “I believe.” If, after you say, “I believe,” you never follow, do you truly believe?  If after saying, “My trust is in Jesus,” you never exercise that trust, are you truly trusting?


Jesus called. Jesus said, “Come, follow me.”  Peter, Andrew, James, and John dropped their nets and fell in line behind Jesus.  Imagine what that looked like to Zebedee and his wife, Salome.  Imagine what the other business owners must have thought.  Imagine what the townspeople were thinking.


“They have lost their ever-loving minds!”


Sometimes, that is what people say when a person gets serious with Jesus. Sometimes that is what people say when a congregation gets serious about following Jesus.


In all of this, there is a promise from Jesus. Jesus told those four fishermen, “From now on I am going to be teaching you how to fish for people.”  Jesus took what they knew best as a segue into their new mission.


They knew about fishing for fish. He would teach them to fish for men.


I remember the song from my youth, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men, if you follow me.”  My Sunday School teacher essentially made the jump that Jesus wanted everyone to become a fisher of men.


It was quite a leap for me. I had never been fishing.  Fishing for men didn’t sound appealing.  Not my gift. 


As I have gotten older, I realize that what is important is the command, “Come, follow me!” After that, whatever you personally bring to the table may be used for the Kingdom of God.  Did Jesus teach Matthew, the tax collector, to be a fisher of men?  How about Simon the Zealot, the political revolutionary?  What about Zaccheus, the tax collector?  What about Saul, the rabbi?


Even among these four fishermen, there were many skills needed that none of them individually possessed in their entirety. Someone had to pilot the boat.  Someone had to mend the nets.  Someone had to skillfully find the schools of fish.  Someone had to know how to read the weather.  Someone had to be good at diving.  Someone had to be strong enough to get the fish in the boat. 


Beyond that, someone had to salt or smoke the fish. Someone had to get the fish to market.  Someone had to sell the fish.  Someone had to handle the accounts.

It all starts with following Jesus.  It all starts with, “Come, follow me!”

Can you see where this is going?


I believe that God honors our individuality and treats us accordingly. If you aren’t an evangelist, have night sweats about sharing your faith with an unbeliever, be at peace.  You can still participate in the Kingdom.  You can still help bring people to Jesus by using the gifts God has given you.


I think Jesus was speaking to these men about becoming fishers of men precisely because they were fishermen. If they were farmers or shepherds, I think he would have used a more appropriate analogy.

The point is this. Whatever your profession, your vocation, your trade, your gifting, everything you have and are can be used by Jesus to build the Kingdom if you are first and foremost in a relationship with Him, if you are following behind Him.


The centuries have come and gone, but the process remains the same. The same clear, clarion call goes forth today as it once did on the shores of Galilee.


Come, follow me.


Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory.  AMEN.












Grace Covenant Presbyterian of Gloucester has adopted the motto of
“To Know Christ, To Make Christ Known.”  


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